SALT LAKE CITY – Five University of Utah healthcare workers and four Intermountain Healthcare staff members became the first Utahns to receive the COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday outside of a clinical trial.
The vaccinations took place on Tuesday at the University of Utah Hospital and Intermountain LDS Hospital. Christy Mulder, a nurse in a US health care intensive care unit, was the first person to receive the vaccine in Utah, US health officials said on Twitter.
US healthcare assistant Diana Navarrete, environmental services operator Maria Cuevas, emergency medicine Dr. Stephen Hartsell, and respiratory therapist Brad Thompson were all vaccinated shortly after Mulder on Tuesday morning.
“Today is an overwhelming day, a lot of excitement,” Mulder said during a press conference on Tuesday after the vaccinations. “I am excited about the next step we are taking to end this painful pandemic.”
Intermountain Monte Roberts LDS Hospital workers, Amanda Vicchrilli, William Brunt and Sophie Woodbury received the vaccine shortly after 1pm Tuesday.
Roberts, who was visibly emotional after being the first Intermountain worker to be vaccinated, said it was a tiring struggle seeing COVID-19 patients. The disease affects everyone, young and old, and it doesn’t go away, he said.
Roberts said he was thrilled to receive the vaccine not only to protect himself, but also to protect his patients, family and community.
“It’s huge because it provides light,” he said at an Intermountain press conference shortly after being vaccinated. “We can beat him. We’ll do it together.”
“Herculean effort” to start vaccinations
Frontline health workers are the first in line to receive the vaccine this month. Residents and staff of long-term care facilities, as well as teachers, will also be in the first wave of Utahn to be inoculated, health officials said. About 154,000 doses of the vaccine are expected to arrive in Utah this month.
US Health Pharmacy Senior Director Kavish Choudhary described the “Herculean effort” on Tuesday to prepare the vaccine for delivery.
The vaccine arrived around 7am Tuesday in a surprisingly small crate, he said. The doses were transported to the US hospital about an hour later and had to be stored in a freezer for another two hours or so before they could be administered, he added.
“A bit of a whirlwind morning,” said Choudhary.
According to Choudhary, about 25-30 other US health workers will be vaccinated on Tuesday. Several hundred other workers will be vaccinated on Wednesday.
On Thursday and Friday, the United States will expand to open a larger vaccination clinic for workers, Choudhary added. Those clinics will have 15 people administering the vaccine and will be able to vaccinate one worker every 10 to 15 minutes, he said.
Pharmacy staff are still getting used to COVID-19 vaccine vials, which are different than what they are used to, so the vaccine launch will be more gradual, Choudhary said.
At Intermountain, 50 LDS hospital workers were due to receive the doses on Tuesday, said Dr. Kristin Dascomb, medical director of infection prevention for Intermountain Healthcare employees. Murray’s Intermountain Medical Center and Intermountain’s Utah Valley Hospital will also receive doses of the vaccine soon, he said.
“We are grateful to share this hope with our assistants,” Dascomb said.
The University of Utah Hospital, LDS Hospital, Murray Intermountain Medical Center, Utah Valley Hospital, and St. Dixie Regional Medical Center five facilities are receiving vaccine doses first.
Other Intermountain facilities, such as Sandy’s Alta View Hospital, Ogden’s McKay-Dee Hospital, and Logan Regional Hospital will receive doses sooner or later down the line, Dascomb added.
Healthcare workers thankful for the vaccine
Hartsell said the vaccine was “probably one of the best Christmas gifts we’ve ever received.”
“It’s a historic day,” he said.
Mulder said that while death has always been part of the work in an ICU, there is something different about COVID-19. It’s painful to watch patients suffer for so long, he said.
“That weight feels heavier over time,” Mulder said. But being able to get the vaccine gave her a sense of hope, she added.
“It’s really encouraging, and it really feels like a weight has been lifted,” Mulder said. “It’s so special to be a part of it.”
Woodbury, who has worked at LDS Hospital for about five years, said getting the vaccine will help her mental state.
At this point, workers have not been able to offer much hope to the struggling COVID-19 patients, he said. But knowing that there is a vaccine out there that will be able to help protect people from the disease will allow her to treat her patients with more kindness and hope, Woodbury added.
“Today is a day full of hope,” he said. “I know there will be an end.”
He said he now intends to talk about the benefits of the vaccine and help people make good decisions about how to get it.
“I feel like I’m a bit of an ambassador now,” he said.
Utahns urged to remain vigilant
Dr. Angela Dunn, a state epidemiologist with the Utah Department of Health who chaired vaccinations at the United States Hospital and LDS Hospital, said it was hard to believe it was only a year ago that she was on a conference call with experts. diseases on a new coronavirus.
There’s a vaccine now, Dunn said.
“This is a huge, momentous day that gives me such joy and pride,” he said at the Intermountain press conference on Thursday. “We have an extraordinary state that has come together.”
Utah did not experience the peak after Thanksgiving that many had predicted, Dunn added.
“We are in a much better position today than I thought,” he said.
That said, Utah is heading into another holiday season and colder months are on the way, Dunn said. And although Utah hasn’t had a huge hike since Thanksgiving, the state is still reporting about 2,000 cases a day, which is too much, he said. The number of cases in this range means that the hospitals are still full.
So it’s more important now than ever to keep wearing masks, get away socially, stay home when she gets sick, and practice all the other public health measures that officials recommended during the pandemic, Dunn said.
At least 50% of Utahns must be vaccinated for there to be an effect on stopping the spread of COVID-19, and an inoculation rate of 70-80% is more ideal, Dunn said. The vaccines are not expected to be widely available to the general public until summer 2021, so he urged people to remain vigilant in preventing the spread of the disease in the meantime.
“There’s light at the end of the tunnel – we’re not quite there yet,” Dunn said. “It’s so important that we keep giving up our cases.”